It’s been a bad week for Howard Webb. Fans are still parsing his controversial performance in Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Liverpool, and on New Year’s Day, David Moyes called his failure to award Ashley Young a penalty “scandalous…an incredible decision, probably one of the worst I think I saw.”
It’s also been a bad week for Mark Clattenburg, whom Southampton has accused of “insulting” playmaker Adam Lallana. (Never mind that, as alleged insults go, this one isn’t particularly offensive.) Clattenburg has been through this before. In 2012, John Obi Mikel accused him of racial abuse. It later emerged that Mikel hadn’t actually heard the abuse – he’d merely heard rumors in the Chelsea dressing room – and Clattenburg was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing. Mikel, however, received a three-match ban for using “threatening and/or abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviors” when he charged into Clattenburg’s office screaming bloody murder.
Webb and Clattenburg can’t defend themselves publicly, because referees aren’t allowed to speak to the press. That’s part of the reason so much attention is paid to autobiographies like Mark Halsey’s Added Time, which contains a full account of the Clattenburg-Mikel incident, and Graham Poll’s Seeing Red, which struggles manfully to make the third yellow incident seem like something less than a career-defining calamity. After Liverpool’s 2-1 loss to Manchester City, Brendan Rodgers questioned referee Lee Mason’s integrity, and fans tweeted about everything from Mason’s Mancunian roots to his baldness and his weight. But Mason himself didn’t say a word.
Referees should be required to give post-match press conferences. Players and managers give them all the time, and they’re often asked to comment on the referee’s performance. Referees should comment on their own performances. They should apologize for mistakes and complain when they feel unjustly persecuted. In Added Time, Halsey claims that he asked Sir Alex Ferguson to publicly support Clattenburg, partly because Clattenburg wasn’t permitted to publicly support himself. Referees should not have to beg Sir Alex for help.
Moreover, referees are uniquely positioned to explain controversial calls: they fully understand the Laws of the Game, and they’re privy to the mysterious FIFA directives that supposedly govern “gray-area” decisions involving things like penalty-area grappling and tackles from behind. Since pundits still can’t agree about the penalty calls in the Liverpool-Chelsea game, wouldn’t it be interesting to hear Webb’s interpretation of, say, Lucas’ tackle on Hazard?
It would be interesting, but we’re probably never going to hear it – unless, of course, Webb decides to put it in his memoir.